The Uganda Peoples Defence Forces (UPDF) has been cited in the alleged mismanagement of relief food meant for the people of Karamoja.
According to the Committee on Presidential Affairs that is currently investigating the alleged misuse of Karamoja relief items including iron sheets, goats and maize flour by the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM), the UPDF is alleged to have received several consignments of food items meant for the vulnerable people of Karamoja under unclear circumstances.
While appearing before the committee on Wednesday, 01 March 2023, the Minister of State for Defence and Veteran Affairs, Hon. Jacob Marksons Oboth said the food items allocated to UPDF were for a good cause to feed inmates.
“Following the rejuvenation of disarmament operations in July 2021 under the Operation usalaama kwa wote, cordon and search operations resulted in massive arrests and detention of suspects under military custody.
As a result, the Third Division faced a challenge in feeding the inmates,” Oboth said.
He said operation usalaama kwa wote coincided with a period when government through the Ministry of Karamoja Affairs was distributing food items to the vulnerable Karimojong community with stores at Namalu Government Prison in Nakapiripirit District.
“Following consultations with the line ministry, UPDF requested to be considered for allocation of food items to feed the extra inmates under custody, which was granted,” Oboth said.
According to the minister, at the height of the operations which took place between September 2021 and August 2022, UPDF received a total of 590 bags of maize to feed a total of 2,500 inmates scattered in Third Division Headquarters in Moroto, 45th Battalion Headquarters in Kaabong, 405 Brigade Headquarters in Kotido and 403 Brigade Headquarters in Napak.
“The allocation of maize to feed Karimojong inmates in UPDF was sanctioned by the Minister for Karamoja Affairs and for a good cause to support the operation since a large number of inmates had not been budgeted for by UPDF,” Oboth said adding that the request for food items was made by the Third Division commander.
The Chairperson of the Committee on Presidential Affairs, Hon. Jesca Ababiku sought to know what informed UPDF’s decision to request food items to feed inmates, yet it was meant for the vulnerable people of Karamoja.
“Since it is the division commander who made the request, we want the minutes of that meeting, and we are concerned that he had the courage to ask for food from Karamoja where famine is persistent. Wasn’t there any other alternative through which you would get some maize which propelled you to ask for food from the vulnerable?” Ababiku probed.
She also asked for formal correspondence between the UPDF and the Ministry of Karamoja Affairs by Friday this week.
Whereas Oboth Oboth expressed commitment to look for relevant formal documents, he was quick to add that the request for food items was not an inter-ministerial engagement, but rather an oral request made by the division commander.
Lamwo District Woman Representative, Hon. Nancy Acora queried why UPDF was also involved in transporting and distributing food items to schools and other places in Karamoja, yet it was the responsibility of OPM.
Earlier, Oboth told the committee that on 15 August 2022, a UPDF truck was used to deliver 60 bags of maize to feed Karimojong children at the UWESO Rehabilitation Centre in Wakiso and this was done out of courtesy.
Hon. Tony Awany proposed that UPDF provides all the evidence regarding their interaction with the Ministry of Karamoja Affairs as far as this matter is concerned.
“Lack of formalities undermines issues of transparency and accountability, and it is also a good breeding ground for issues of irregularities,” he said.